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A German missionary sent to Tierra del Fuego in 1919 by his congregation, Martin Gusinde was a major Americanist and ethnographer from the first half of the twentieth century. While his mission was ostensibly to convert the native peoples among whom he lived, Gusinde did just the opposite, eventually becoming one of the first Westerners ever to be initiated into the various sacred rites of the inhabitants of Tierra del Fuego. In the course of four sojourns made between 1919 and 1924, from the canals of Western Patagonia to the great island of Tierra del Fuego, he learned and wrote about the Kawésqar, Yamana, and Selk’nam peoples. Gradually, the missionary became an anthropologist.
Fascinated by what he saw, Gusinde took more than one thousand photographs, all produced using a portable darkroom. Gusinde captured some truly extraordinary images that his contemporaries were unable to: feather-clad bodies sporting high headdresses made of bark, wrapped up in guanaco furs, or entirely covered with ritual paint, populating a landscape battered by wind, rain, and snow—the heart of a natural world that Darwin had celebrated, not long before, for its wildness. A dazzling visual experience, Gusinde’s photographs are a monument to the memory of the Tierra del Fuego people as well as an exceptional anthropological document.
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